FORT SILL, Okla. (April 18, 2019) -- Retiring Staff Sgt. Peter Flynn, Reynolds Army Health Clinic Behavioral Health noncommissioned officer in charge, said he had gotten accustomed to a high standard of living that his military paycheck provided. He wanted to continue that standard as he transitioned into a second career after his retirement.

He thought about going into work in the mental health field, but to make good money he would need to get a master's degree, which would mean about six years of college for him. Flynn said he's always enjoyed driving. He has three cars and three motorcycles. So he decided to take the 26-day Troops into Transportation's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) School, offered through the Fort Sill Soldier for Life - Transition Complex.

"I had three job offers day one of the program: about 12 offers that week," said Flynn, who graduated March 29. He accepted a position as a professional truck driver with J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., in Columbia, S.C., where his house is. He'll be starting his new career May 1, while still on terminal leave, earning $60,000 per year.

"One of the things the Army gave me was a really good financial base," said Flynn, "and now I'll be able to maintain that. I'm very excited."

Michael Webb, Troops into Transportation military field representative, said the course helps transitioning Soldiers and veterans obtain their CDL with endorsements. Because Troops into Transportation is not a transportation company itself, it assists its students in finding employment with virtually all trucking companies.

"Free agency is the key word. The Soldier can go where the Soldier chooses to work," Webb said. "We try to help the Soldier and the family get to where they want to live."

Soldiers use their GI Bill to pay for the 180 hours of training, and need to get permissive temporary duty orders from their commanders to take the course, said Webb, a retired sergeant first class. That's because only the first week of training is done at the SFL -Transition Complex here. The next three weeks are spent at Fort Hood, Texas.

Graduates of The CDL School receive a federal driver's license and class endorsements, and can drive virtually anything for a company, Webb said. For example, Class A endorsement is for semi-trailers; Class B is for school buses; and Class C, smaller box trucks.

Soldiers who are Motor Transport Operators Military Occupational Specialty 88M can receive 20 credit-hours for their military experience for the course; however, they need to complete the school to receive their CDL, Webb said.

TRAINING
The first week of classroom instruction prepares students to take the CDL test, Flynn said. Troops into Transportation also provides a sample online test similar to what they see for the CDL test.

At Fort Hood, there is one week of classroom training, then the last two weeks are spent behind the wheel, Flynn said. "You have to pass a certain amount of tests driving the truck to let them know that you're not going to go out there and get yourself or anybody else killed while you're on the road. Safety is one of the biggest considerations during training."

Flynn said semi-trailer driving is not easy. You're driving a cab coupled to a trailer that is 60-feet long and weighs 50,000 pounds.

"I felt like a first-time driver when I got down there (Fort Hood)," Flynn said. "Everything is more difficult."

"If you told me that I would have a hard time going 100 feet in a straight line, I would have laughed at you," he said. "But when you're trying to drive backward in an articulated (bends in the middle) vehicle, it's very challenging. It's like trying to throw a dart backward and hit the board."

Most of the trucks have 10 gears, and by the time you're going 15 miles per hour, you're in sixth gear, so there's a lot of shifting, said Flynn, a former infantryman.

Still, he doesn't want to scare anyone away. There was a small Soldier who was eight months pregnant and she completed the training, Flynn said.

Webb said Fort Sill's program has had virtually a 100 percent graduation rate. "We've had 100 graduates since the program began Feb. 26 (2018)."

Classes average 8-10 students.

OPPORTUNITIES
Possessing a CDL opens other opportunities within a company, Webb said. "Not everybody wants to drive an 18-wheeler."

There are freight dispatchers, logisticians, administrators, and driver trainers and recruiters, Webb said. A diesel mechanic must have a CDL to test-drive a truck that he or she just repaired.

The professional truck driving field is wide open because the baby boomers are retiring, Webb said. Transportation companies are looking for veterans because they have the skills they are looking for: discipline, dependability, reliability, promptness, and adaptability.

And, the industry is not going away, Webb said.

There are driving positions where the driver delivers locally and is home each evening, Webb said. "It's a myth that drivers are never Caution-home."

Most of today's semi-trailer trucks are no older than three years old to keep up with the technology that's out there, Webb said. That includes automatic transmissions, Wi-Fi, and GPS. The Wi-Fi allows drivers to continue online education during their overnight breaks in their sleeper cabs.

Flynn absolutely recommends The CDL School.

He poses this question to transitioning Soldiers who are not sure about what they want to do next:Where else can you go to school for one month, and are guaranteed to have at least a $50,000-a-year career when you graduate?

"Not maybe, but guaranteed."